Townsville Bulletin

Warning on plane holiday mayhem


TOWNSVILLE Airport could come to a standstill this Christmas because of a lack of ground operation workers excluded from government support, an alliance says.

The government announced a Retaining Domestic Airline Capability program last month which included wage support for airline staff but excluded staff in outsourced roles such as ground operations.

The Australian Aviation Ground Handling Industry Alliance says without this support a large proportion of the workforce will pursue other more financiall­y secure work.

The alliance’s chair, Glenn Rutherford, said Townsville’s economic recovery could be threatened.

At Townsville, 100 per cent of ramp, baggage and below wing operations is conducted by outsourced providers, while 65 per cent of check-in and customer service is outsourced.

“Our 9800 specialist ground handlers are being denied the same financial support from the government for doing the same work, at the same airport for the same airline as in-house employees,” Mr Rutherford said.

“If that protection is not extended to all aviation ground operations personnel, it will inevitably mean a large proportion of our workforce will pursue other more financiall­y secure work in the weeks ahead, after almost 18 months of diminished or no work.”

Mr Rutherford said it would take at least six months to recruit more workers and train them to government standards.

“That means we are likely to see many flights grounded in November, December, January and February owing to a nationwide shortage of profession­al aviation ground operations staff,” Mr Rutherford said. “Shortages of critical aviation ground handling profession­als are likely to affect rural and regional airports the hardest, owing to the greater reliance on outsourced specialist operations staff.”

A spokeswoma­n for Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government recognised the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns and that having airlines ready to resume operations quickly as soon as they were able was critical. She said the government had responded to calls for support through programs to maintain aviation capability and had provided more than $5.1bn to the aviation industry.

“The government acknowledg­es that the aviation industries are operating in a dynamic and crucial phase of the pandemic,” the spokeswoma­n said.

“The government will continue to listen to stakeholde­rs and review the Retaining Domestic Airline Capability program, as it has done with all pandemic response measures, to ensure that it continues to be fit for purpose.”

The alliance says flights per week have declined 38 per cent to 160 between May and August, although it has dropped as low as 130 a week.

At its peak, pre-covid, it says there was an average of 182 domestic flights a week, transporti­ng about 130,000 passengers a month, contributi­ng about $420m to the local economy.

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